Paints and Painting Mediums March 26, 2023 11:05
Recently I decided to switch to a different paint brand. I've got a ton of Williamsburg paints, but a year or so ago, I coveted a tube of Michael Harding Scarlet Lake and bought it for myself as a treat. Well, I loved it. And it was not only the color I loved, but the paint consistency--smooshy without it leaking oil all over. It was just so easy to manipulate, especially compared to the Williamsburg paints I have. They are wonderful and come in a jillion colors, but for me they are a bit stiff. I've always had to add things to them to suit me, usually some walnut oil.
Then I discovered Siccatif de Courtrai, which i've written about. This does affect the consistency slightly because it's based on (real) turpentine. Even though you add just a couple drops per blob of paint on your palette, it helps make the paint be a little more spreadable. It still wasn't enough to make it as spreadable as I would like, but a couple years ago I tried oiling in or oiling out--applying a very thin layer of oil on dry paint, then wiping it off so only a whisper of oil is left. This made it much easier for me to paint some details, although with some pigments, like prussian blue, it would make them bleed across the canvas. I had no idea how much it could extend drying time.
I still had the problem of never having a brush that was stiff enough to move the paint around but not so stiff it would leave tracks. Sheesh.
In February, I came into a little money thanks to a crypto gift, and I used $200 of it to buy a bunch of Michael Harding paints. They have completely changed how I paint.
Because yes, they are smooshy, for the most part (except the titanium), and so they really suit how I want to paint. And the colors are drenched. Gorgeous! Yes, they are more expensive than Williamsburg, but they are totally worth it for me.
At the same time, I found some brushes, quite cheap, that I like--Bristlon Silver. I never usually use rounds, but I bought some to do details. They are great for that. They keep their points but aren't so stiff that they feel like a broom. They work great with the Harding paints and I know I will get more of them. I especially want to add some filberts now, as all my filberts are in ragged shape, partly due to me cleaning them in a stupid way.
I started a new painting and after doing the drawing, I started painting without remembering to oil in first. Because of the consistency of the Harding paint, I found that I did not need to. Wow!
I also found that the paint had dried the next day. I was shocked. I checked and found that none of the pigments I had used were fast driers. I thought it might be a one-off, some kind of accident. But it wasn't. This has been the case day after day. Using just the Siccatif de Courtrai and no oiling in or added oil, the Harding paint is very spreadable in use and still dries the next day.
This is life-changing in terms of my painting. And it comes after trying a number of different mediums in an effort to get away from using the Siccatif, since it has turpentine in it and my place is tiny now and has only two windows instead of eight. I need to have the fan on and both windows open when I paint (and for hours afterward) to ensure there is no buildup of turpentine fumes. I actually like the smell of the real thing, unlike the disgusting formaldehyde-ridden crap that I've purchased from reputable art suppliers. But I know it's toxic and it does irritate my lungs. As for other solvents, no need to go there.
In terms of mediums, I tried sun-thickened poppy oil I made years ago (it's really thick now), poppy oil with driers, and heat-treated walnut oil, and none of them really improved drying time at all compared with what would be the case with the untreated oils. I really dislike the smell of oxidizing linseed oil, so I don't consider that an option in medium form, although as a binder in my paints, it doesn't bother me.
I still have a couple more mediums to try (for instance, I bought some cobalt to add to oil), but now I have the possibility of not having to use mediums at all, just paint straight from the tube. As soon as I finish this painting, I will give that a try.
Oil painting November 3, 2021 12:26
I've been doing watercolors exclusively for quite a while but began to miss oils, despite their inconveniences and because I still felt weird about using a lead-manganese drier in my paints to hurry them up. Then I came across mention of the King in Yellow in a horror novel I was reading, "Southern Gods" by John Horner Jacobs, who named a madness-causing bluesman Ramblin' John Hastur (Hastur being the King's other name). This reminded me of reading about the King in Yellow when I was a teenager and read the collection by Robert W. Chambers of the same name and then came across this name in various stories part of the Cthulhu Mythos. I always thought this was a scary figure, described with no more than a line about the tattered scalloped edges of his yellow silk robe..We are told that a play with the same name caused its audience to go mad in the second act. And I got a hankering to paint him.
I asked my friends on Facebook what did they favor for this task? Almost all recommended oils. Okay.
I had a lot of brush cleaning to do, since it had been so long since I'd used my oil paints that the oil in the brushes had hardened. I had to clean them by soaking them in orange solvent and then scrubbing them with mild soap. Whew! But once I started, the painting just flowed. I was surprised.
I had to take a break to do a project with a deadline, which I will be posting about this weekend or early next week, but when I finished that, I immediately went to finish the King painting. I'm happy with it.
Meanwhile, I had been working on a watercolor still life that had taken me a couple of weeks already. I still haven't finished that. Not much is left to do. I had anticipated doing a series of still lifes, but having dipped back into oil painting, I remembered how much more forgiving it is than watercolors. Yes, oils are smelly, messy, have an involved cleanup, and there is the drying issue, which has been big for me because there are a lot of components of traditional oil painting that I can't tolerate.
One of them has been lead, and I posted before about using a lead-manganese drier, Siccatif de Courtrai. I had this product for a few years before I actually used it, gingerly, and then I got hooked on it. There were a couple of things I noticed about this stuff. While it didn't always work as quickly as I'd like, I actually didn't mind the smell. I realized it must have some refined turpentine in it, not the cheap stuff I had smelled in the past. Also, using the drier meant, for some reason, I no longer smelled the oxidizing oil. Maybe there is some chemical reason for that, but I don't know what it is. All I know is that having the window cracked a bit makes it so I can paint with this stuff no problem and the speedier drying has been a game-changer for me. So much so that I bought some "English distilled turpentine," which is supposed to be the best quality turpentine and less anoying than its cheaper siblings. I haven't tried it yet. I look forward to it.
Siccatif de Courtrai May 1, 2021 13:33
I mentioned Siccatif de Courtrai a couple days ago as a 19th-century paint drier containing lead and manganese that I'd bought some time ago and decided to actually try using. I hadn't used it before because I had been spooked by lead and really, I'd found that by using walnut oil and keeping 5 or more paintings in rotation, I always had something dry I could work on and didn't really need it. I had a separate studio then and so I had plenty of room to store paintings drying.
But now I don't have a separate studio and have way less room for drying paintings, though I am utilizing the space above my T5 plant lights, which get warm but not hot. Still, I felt like it was a good time to check out the various driers I have. I decided to try Siccatif de Courtrai first, not least of all because only one drop was necessary per paint glob. I thought I could deal with that much lead and manganese.
This stuff is supposed to be problematic on linseed oil, causing it to wrinkle, but it is said to work well on paint using walnut or poppyseed oil. Although I had plenty of paints made with linseed oil, I typically have used walnut oil in a solvent-free painting method. I've used poppyseed oil mostly as a finish and a sun-dried version at that.
But the first painting I tried the siccative with, I decided to try painting with regular, NOT sun-dried poppyseed oil, since I have a bunch from a while ago. Although the siccative is supposed to render a relatively thin layer of paint dry in 8-12 hours, that was not the case with the paints to which I added poppyseed oil. In fact, the paint was still wet two days later. Disappointing. I should say I did NOT put a layer of poppyseed oil with siccative to start the painting. I think this might have made a difference.
Yesterday morning, I decided to try it with a painting where I used walnut oil as the medium. This is not any special walnut oil, not heat-treated or sun-thickened but just out of the bottle from Spectrum (although I also have a gallon jug from Jedwards, although you can get a sun-thickened walnut oil from Kremer). I started with a layer of oil+siccative that I applied and wiped off and then painted into, then added one drop of siccative to each paint glob on the palette plus the walnut oil, maybe five drops, which is about as much oil as I usually use.
Amazingly, by the end of the day, the thin parts of the painting were actually dry, and this morning, the whole painting is entirely dry. This is faster than the walnut alkyd I was using, which gives me a headache. This stuff doesn't give me a headache, although it has something of a smell. I'm thinking it has turpentine in it.
The Siccatif de Courtrai I'm using is by James Groves and contains lead and manganese. He makes all sorts of other interesting stuff, some of which I have, like Gentileschi amber medium and the drying walnut heat-bodied oil (which he no longer makes). I will no doubt end up trying these and other of his products, since this siccative has been so successful.
Other companies also make this siccative, but they mostly seem not to include lead or manganese. For instance, I noticed that the version by LeFranc & Bourgeois comes up first in search results, but their "white siccatif de courtrai" doesn't contain manganese, from what I can see, and their newer version of it doesn't contain lead either but instead uses zirconium and calcium. Their brown siccatif de courtrai is/was supposed to contain lead and manganese, but I have not seen it for sale. Sennelier also makes a version, but likewise without either lead nor manganese. In fact, from what I can see, a number of companies make a version of siccatif de courtrai that contains zirconium and calcium instead of lead and manganese. So, not at all the same thing as what I am using, despite the name.
I saw one remark out there that said that this size bottle of siccative would be used up in one underpainting, but all I can say is that the canvas in such a case would be the size of a barn. This is for using at one drop per nut of paint. I think it's going to last me a while, and when I use it up, I should be able to get another bottle for twenty bucks, which is reasonable, IMO.
I'm going to slowly push the envelope with this siccative in terms of paint thickness, since I do like to have a certain blobby quality in some paintings. It would be great if this stuff shortened the drying time for that.
Back to oil painting April 28, 2021 17:00
I've been thinking about doing oil painting again. I've missed it, especially the ability to blend and to glaze easily. I love working with watercolor on the watercolor ground, but it limits what I can do because it lifts so easily.
OTOH, oil paints take a while to dry. I used to deal with that problem when I had a separate studio by having several paintings going at once, like five. There would always be something ready to work on each day, and it helped me learn how to paint faster.
So this morning, I pulled out my oil painting carts and cleaned off all the tubes, which had gotten quite dusty, and the brushes, which were thick with cat hair (miss you, Blackie!) and dust. I used packing tape to easily clean the brushes and sorted through which ones seemed redeemable and which weren't. I also got rid of some that I knew I would not ever use, like the fan brushes and some grainers. I chose the cleanest ones to work with and put the brushes that had gotten stiff from old oil to soak in some citrus solvent. This is the only time I ever use solvent.
Since I'd forgotten a lot of what I knew when I last used my oils, I decided to use the walnut alkyd. This does speed up drying, and I remembered using it a lot in the past. But I forgot that it gave me a headache. I still have that headache 6 hours after finishing painting. So lesson remembered, and I will throw that stuff out.
I do usually paint oil only, no solvent, and typically have used walnut oil, although I've finished some paintings with a layer of sun-thickened poppy oil instead of varnish. It looks nice, doesn't yellow, is easy, and has no solvents. I've always wanted to try making my own paints with poppyseed oil. Nostalgia for a world I never knew, I guess. But I do own a few tubes of Blockx oil paint, which is made with poppyseed oil instead of linseed oil or walnut oil.
At any rate, I began working on a painting and quickly got frustrated, mainly because I forgot to oil in before starting to paint. Oh well. Another wonderful thing about oil paint is how easy it is to wipe off. I did that three times before I got anything that I thought was worth working further on. It's pretty terrible, but it's a start.
My apartment is a loft, so there isn't a lot of room to store wet oil paintings, but I thought to put them on top of the light fixtures I use for my mandrakes with a little fan blowing on them. The fixtures get warm but not hot, and this is out of the way. I can definitely put four paintings on the fixtures if I want to keep a good rotation of dried paintings going. Just not sure if I will enjoy the smell of the drying oil. It's not toxic or anything. I just don't like the scent. But at least now I not only can have all the windows open but I also bought an air purifier for a different reason, and that should help too.
After I got done, I broke out another canvas and started looking around in my cart to see what I had stored in there, and I came across mediums I'd bought in the past and not used. One of them is Siccatif de Courtrai. This is an 19th-century medium that contains lead and manganese as paint driers. I got spooked by lead in the past, in particular because in the past I often resorted to using my fingertips to blend edges of paint, and I know lead can be absorbed through the skin. So I never used the stuff.
But now I thought it would really help me to give it a try, since it is alleged to dry walnut or poppy-based paint in 8-12 hours without the wrinkling it might cause in the presence of linseed oil. If I could get a painting to dry overnight, that would be great.
I have a ton of walnut oil on hand--I bought a gallon a while ago--but I also have some poppyseed oil. So I'm going to try oiling out with that plus one drop of the siccatif. It's also recommended that one drop be added to each glob of paint the size of a quarter.
AND I ordered some gel finger cots, which I can use instead of my bare fingertips if I can't resist doing that.
I also see Tad Spurgeon has a new edition of his vastly wonderful book on oil painting, and that's on my list now too. I've got an older edition but would enjoy seeing what he's come up with since then. Looking forward to making stuff.